Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Contemporary Stripes Woven to Order: the Otokodate Kanoko Kanbee, 1844. Oban.
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This woodblock print is so beautiful, so fresh, that it is very close to the exact quality and state of a newly minted print from the high period of top quality ukiyo-e. The colours are fresh and clean, the paper is bright, the quality of the engraved lines is sharp and vital. The print has been stored for years in a private collection and has picked up little or no wear and tear. The design is a triumph - notice the great robust heft of the otokodate bursting out of the exquisitely judged abstraction of the draped cloth background.
The print is of an actor, but this is 1844… only eighteen months after the swingeing Tenpo Reforms which introduced harsh laws preventing decadence in actor portraits and woodblock printed material. Some of the symbols on the kimono are suggestive of the Ishikawa clan but the subject here is an otokodate (a romanticised hooligan) called Kanoko Kanbee. Nothing is now known of this character or the other four otokodate that make up this short, quite brilliant series. Kunisada made two complimentary series in 1844 titled Contemporary Stripes Woven to Order. Each short series shows brilliant portraits of unnamed actors in the roles of the popular street thieves of the time. The names, the actors, the deeds would all have been known to the towns people of Edo, the game of hide and seek with the authorities was lightweight but also deadly serious.
The two series were commissioned to advertise fabrics launched at the beginning of the New Year. The delicacy with which Kunisada negotiates a mundane commission, the harsh legislation and the problems of his own career are beautifully balanced - Kunisada was changing his name and his status in a difficult and in the end futile attempt to become Toyokuni II. Briefly signing himself, on some prints ‘Designed by Kunisada, Changing his Name to Toyokuni II’, in this case - ‘By Order, Toyokuni’. This important series is discussed at length and illustrated on pp. 156 - 157 of Sebastian Izzard, Kunisada's World, Japan Society 1993.
A tremendous design, the print is in mint condition as clean and sharp as the day it was printed.
Published by Miyakozawa, 1844-6.
37 x 26 cm.